Bill Gates bets $10M on the future of drug development software

It may amount to only spare change for Bill Gates, but the billionaire's $10 million investment in a Portland-based drug development software outfit could give him a strategic position in the quest to use powerful computers and state-of-the-art software to reengineer the development of pharmaceuticals.

Gates told the Wall Street Journal that he has sunk his money into Schrodinger, a company with a staff of 140 and a mission to create software that can be used to simulate the lab work that chemists perform during the discovery stage.

The field caught fire in the ‘90s but crashed to earth--along with much of the rest of the tech industry--a decade ago. The pharma software field has since retooled itself and scaled down its ambitions to more achievable goals. The soaring cost of drug development, combined with a meager productivity rate from Big Pharma pipelines, has focused new attention on the field. For Gates, the key connection was meeting Schrodinger co-founder and Columbia professor Richard Friesner while playing bridge.

"People have been optimistic about this basic approach in the past and it turned out to be a tougher problem," Gates says. "In some ways I'm more optimistic," he adds, pointing out that a few key breakthroughs could make a big difference.

- here's the report from the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)
- see Schrodinger's release